Home / Opinion / Teaching policing in Indian universities

Recently, the Union cabinet has approved a Rs25,000 crore internal security scheme, aimed at strengthening the law-and-order apparatus while enhancing the capacity of the state police forces to combat terrorism and face emerging new challenges. Many provisions in the scheme, such as women’s security, the upgradation of police infrastructure, providing modern weapons, hiring helicopters, crime and criminal tracking network and systems (CCTNS) and e-prisons, have received considerable attention as they have been part of the debate on police reform. But what has escaped attention is a small but significant step taken to institutionalize the teaching of policing in India.

Police personnel of all ranks require proper training at the appropriate time in their careers. On account of the unique occupational dynamic, together with the constant pressure to address the growing public expectations of accountability, effectiveness and proactive service, police organizations need to be engaged in continual re-examination of their role. This cannot be achieved unless police leadership incorporates the latest concepts and practices in subjects as varied as criminology, sociology, cybersecurity, terrorism studies, criminal justice jurisprudence and organizational behaviour. A well-organized academic paradigm to study the police and policing is what makes this possible.

Policing as an academic discipline is not a dry, abstract or theoretical construct; it is a growing and adapting theory of society, which is in search of security, peace and justice. Many dissenters argue that policing is too contextual and situational to fit into a meaningful theoretical framework. But this is how all practices have evolved into professions. For example, medicine, engineering, management and law became academic disciplines when their practitioners moved in the direction of benchmarking, standardizing and institutionalizing the knowledge, technique and skills acquired by their respective professional communities. This effort got impetus due to the realization among practitioners that the knowledge acquired by them during their lifetime needs to be put into a requisite theoretical building so that it does not go waste. More often than not, the academic effort at theory-building is supplemented by a critical reflection upon the relevance of the issues pertaining to the field, which is better performed by the purposeful coming together of practitioners and academics.

Unprecedented social, cultural, legal, political, economic and technological changes within society require a host of new proficiencies and competencies beyond those imparted in our training academies. Yet many of the principles and practices employed within many of our police academies are reminiscent of a traditional, tutorial model of training. Despite the fact that traditional training does a good job of developing technical and procedural skills, it is correctly argued that the linear and prescriptive nature of this model does not promote the acquisition of essential non-technical competencies such as democratic values, constitutionalism, ethical decision making and human psychology. By contrast, the learning environment of a university is viewed as more holistic, integrative, collaborative and responsive.

Due to the pioneering efforts of August Vollmer, modern policing became a professionalized subject in 1916, with the establishment of the first college-level law enforcement course at the University of California, Berkeley. Now there are many police universities around the world, particularly in the developed countries.

It is high time that policing also became an established academic domain in India. The idea of an educational institution devoted exclusively to education and research on policing is relatively new, and it deserves renewed attention in the context of the recent debate over the future trajectories of police universities in India. However, even after the establishment of two police universities—the Raksha Shakti University in Gujarat and the Sardar Patel University of Police in Rajasthan—the concept is still evolving and continues to be surrounded by ambiguity and confusion. Although the Union cabinet has taken bold new initiatives under the internal security scheme for the institutionalization of the academic discipline of policing by providing assistance to the Gujarat Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar and Sardar Patel Global Centre for Security, Counter Terrorism and Anti Insurgency in Jaipur, much needs to be done in this direction.

Societies worldwide are caught in a constant balancing act between individual liberty and public safety. Indian society is also undergoing tremendous sociocultural, economic and political changes which are bound to have an impact on the institutions established to police it. Contemporary proponents of liberal democracy, human rights and good governance are highly critical of the way policing is handled in India. But the current state of police and policing in India can be put down largely to the way it is perceived by policymakers, educationists and the policeman himself. It goes without saying that they need to redefine and adjust their thinking to develop a constitutional and humane police force by helping bridge the deep-rooted psychological distance between the people and the police. A systematic study of policing through academic institutions is the first step in that direction.

Vinay Kaura is assistant professor at the department of international affairs and security studies, Sardar Patel University of Police.

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